A Virtual Connection into the Nanoscale World via Outreach

A Virtual Connection into the Nanoscale World via Outreach

Jan 22, 2015
SEM image of a velvet mite leg.

"I really enjoyed seeing all the cool specimens with the SEM. I love science even more now!" exclaimed Brynn, age 12.

On January 12, the University Instrumentation Center (UIC) introduced students in New York to the nanoscale world of Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM). This outreach session was well-received by the students and teachers of Mechanicville Junior/Senior High School. The students’ curiosity was clearly piqued by this opportunity to see, at the nanoscale level, the intricate details of such samples as a velvet mite, an apple leaf, and a fruit fly in a spider web. 

Outreach is an important part of the mission of the UIC and, over the years, we have engaged in many outreach opportunities in-person at UNH. This outreach event with Mechanicville, NY represents our first live demonstration via a virtual connection to a school, reaching many more students than an in-person engagement at UNH might allow. Additionally, eliminating the need to travel on-site significantly reduced the cost to the school. 

The virtual connection to the school from the Tescan Lyra Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) was established via TeamViewer software and two 30-minute sessions were presented, each to over 200 students. Prior to the demonstration, students were using compound light microscopes in class to study cell mitosis and were excited to learn how an SEM, using electrons instead of light, could magnify samples by up to 500,000 times:  5000 times more powerful than the microscopes used in class! "I wish I had a SEM!" said Hayden, age 12, and Matthew, age 13, shared "I liked that they explained things in a way we could understand and we got to see things we normally wouldn't see."

During the live demonstration, the Instrumentation Center’s expert microscopists Nancy Cherim and Mark Townley introduced students to the SEM technology, showed students how the images are collected, discussed the details of the analyzed specimens, and answered questions. A special thank you goes out to Mort Cherim, a retired biology teacher, for participating in this demonstration, as well as to John Wilderman for attending to the behind-the-scenes details of establishing the virtual connection. "My favorite part was the bugs!" - Kim, age 13.

Science 7 Teacher/ Assistant Principal Nicole Marschilok shared the students’ enthusiasm for the demonstration: "Our amazing experience with UNH brought an experience my students could only read about in their textbooks into a reality!  The live demo inspired not only our students to be interested in science, but microbiology and attending the University of New Hampshire! The students 6-12 were thrilled and amazed to see all the different organisms up close and see the SEM in motion.  We are so thankful to John Wilderman and the rest of the staff for making this opportunity happen."

Outreach opens up a whole new world of possibilities. "The presentation inspired me to become a scientist" shared Brian, age 12, and Rosie, age 15, had this to say: "I never considered a career in the sciences until now.  UNH seems like a great place to go for college!" Rosie, we couldn’t agree more!

If you are interested in engaging with the UIC via outreach or for sample research or analysis purposes, please contact us for more information at  uic.info@unh.edu. The Instrumentation Center’s Tescan Lyra Scanning Electron Microscope was acquired through a Major Research Instrumentation grant to UNH from the National Science Foundation.

Patricia Stone Wilkinson, Analytical Instrumentation Scientist

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